Basketball Insiders continues its free agency series with its third installment.
There is a ton of attention on the small forward class this summer for obvious reasons—a trio of superstars headlines a crop filled with proven talent on the wing.
Before we get to the top guys, let’s lay out the numbers. This upcoming season, the NBA’s salary cap is projected to jump from $99 million to $101 million. With this information, we can estimate the value of maximum contracts in the following tiers:
$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$35,350,000 for players with 10 or more years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $8,406,000.
Without further ado, let’s get into who’s available:
LeBron James** – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $33,285,709
The burning question on everyone’s minds and the hottest storyline of the NBA offseason—where will LeBron go? Unfortunately, we don’t have that information as of yet. James may not either. The rumors of where The King will take his talents are running rampant all across the basketball world at this point.
Los Angeles seems to be the hot spot most national pundits are pointing to, while the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets are supposedly in the mix to court him to push their respective franchises to the next level as well. Of course, ruling out the Cleveland Cavaliers is the easy thing to do for many considering what’s taken place with the organization since the 2017 NBA Finals—but it may be unwise to count out James’ home state in the running.
Without speculating ties to his son’s high school destinations or what analysts are saying, the options for LeBron are not easy. There are routes he can take that will give him a great chance to lead something great, but who’s to say it leads to the dethroning of the Golden State Warriors with what they’ve built?
Will forming a hypothetical tandem with Paul George in Hollywood get the job done? If he can get to H-Town, is constructing a big three of James Harden, Chris Paul and himself the right move? Surely signing with the Sixers to guide young upstarts like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid would be intriguing.
His hometown franchise has little leeway with their financial situation, but they do have a few assets to work with. Whether it’s drafting a promising rookie with their draft selection next week or dealing the eighth pick in a package for somebody else, you never know what can happen in this league.
The truth of the matter is we don’t know what James is going to do, and we probably won’t for weeks. As far as his decision goes, we can say this—the Cavaliers can pay him the most money (five years, $205 million) while others can offer four years and $152 million.
Another way things could shake out is for James to unexpectedly opt-in into his player option ($35,607,968) to either give it another go in Cleveland or have the franchise work out a deal to move the four-time MVP, granted he waves his no-trade clause. That could be a win-win for both parties at this point, but it’s highly unlikely he’d choose to go that route and give up leverage.
Speaking specifically to what he did on the court, it was an unbelievable season for James. Just go down the list of accomplishments—82 games for the first time as a pro, career-high 9.1 assists per game and tied a career-high with 8.6 rebounds per game. And that’s only naming a few of the accolades he racked up.
The onus on the 33-year-old to take the unsteady Cavaliers to the biggest stage for the fourth straight year with a completely new roster was extremely stressful, but he did it and passed with flying colors. Now with Year 15 in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the next step.
The summer of LeBron is underway. Buckle up.
Kevin Durant** – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $25,000,000
Still often criticized for joining the Warriors a couple of summers ago, Kevin Durant’s decision to team up with the boys in the Bay Area has certainly paid off. Between back-to-back championship titles and two NBA Finals MVP awards to show for it, the 29-year-old is on top of the world right now.
With that said, he technically has a choice of whether to opt-in his player option for $26,250,000 or to demand a maximum contract from Golden State. The obvious answer for most superstars these days is to get paid, and that’s probably what KD will elect to do.
During their championship celebration, Warriors general manager Bob Myers did a bit of razzing when it came to his comments about giving Durant “whatever deal he wants,” but he’ll have earned every penny.
Despite an up-and-down postseason before another sensational showing in June, it was a fantastic year for Durant as a whole. Expect the All-Star forward to be back as a part of the deadly core four at Oracle Arena when all is said and done.
Paul George** – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $20,703,384
Aside from the LeBron free agency hype, there have been a ton of eyes glued to Paul George’s situation. Sam Presti and company took a chance in the summer of 2017 with a blockbuster deal that landed the All-Star forward in Oklahoma City to create a brand new big three with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.
It turned out to be pretty risky, however, as things didn’t quite pan out as planned. It was a season full of ups and downs. Roles weren’t really defined on the offensive end and, overall, there were inconsistencies with usage and no true flow. Because of that and the upcoming offseason lurking over the last few years, many believe that George could be headed elsewhere.
The rumblings seem to indicate that PG-13 would like to travel west and play for the Los Angeles Lakers in his home state of California. As mentioned before, the thought of James teaming up with him comes to mind with that. Other teams reportedly in the mix for him are the Rockets and Sixers.
Just like the two others we talked about above, George could always go with his player option of $20,703,384 to give it one more go with the Thunder. He could even opt-out and look for a maximum deal from them as well if that’s what he prefers. All we know is whatever decision he makes, it will have a huge impact on the summer for his fellow free agent class.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Tyreke Evans – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $3,290,000
It seems like forever ago, but let’s not forget about the renaissance of Tyreke Evans with the Memphis Grizzlies this past year. Even as a part of a downtrodden team in the basement of the Western Conference, the talented forward looked as spritely as he did during his rookie season in the league.
He sat out a lot of the second half, but that was likely more of mutual understanding between him and the organization regarding his upcoming free agency status. Coming off a 19-5-5 season, Evans showed that he has his best playing days ahead of him at 28 years old.
Carmelo Anthony*** – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $26,243,760
There’s no reason for Carmelo Anthony to use his early termination option this summer. It was a difficult shooting year and a poor season defensively for the veteran forward, so it’s unlikely that he’ll make more than his $27,928,140 million salary in 2018-19. If things go south in Oklahoma City, they’ll have a difficult contract on their hands to part ways with.
For the Thunder’s sake, they’ll have to bank on the former All-Star to get back to his old ways.
Wilson Chandler** – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $12,016,854
Rodney Hood* – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $2,386,864
Kyle Anderson* – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $2,151,704
Trevor Ariza – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,420,912
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Rudy Gay** – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $8,406,000
Gerald Green – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $872,854
Glenn Robinson III – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,524,305
Jeff Green – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382
Doug McDermott* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,294,994
Omri Casspi – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382
Joe Johnson – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $473,835
Richard Jefferson – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,454,756
Pat Connaughton* – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382
Corey Brewer – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $340,829
Damion Lee* – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $46,080
Shabazz Muhammad – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $324,203
Luke Babbitt – Miami HEAT– Last Year’s Salary: $1,471,382
Quincy Pondexter – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $3,853,931
Bruno Caboclo* – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $2,451,225
Nicolas Brussino – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,312,611
Jarell Eddie – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129
Brandon Rush – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $83,129
*Qualifying Offer (If made, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent)
***Early Termination Option (The player has the choice to end a signed contract if he desires to enter free agency)
The 2018 free agent class of small forwards is pretty top-heavy with plenty of promise. There will be a lot of teams that are in on bolstering their rosters with capable wings and, in some cases, franchise-changing ones.